Problem employees: Is it you or them?

Problem employees: Is it you or them?

When poor performers constantly cause the feathers to hit the proverbial fan, you might start to wonder who the culprit is. By doing your part to correct bad behavior, you'll help restore order and pinpoint the real trouble team members.
May 01, 2009

Time means nothing to her. I swear, she's always late for work and every team meeting. When she is around, she's not really present. Clients might be standing two feet from her, but she doesn't acknowledge them. Instead, she lets me walk across the room to help them. It's probably better that way, though, because her customer service skills are abhorrent. I mean, is it just me or is she awful?

At first glance, it's easy to assume an employee like the one above is just bad. But maybe the subpar performance is due to outside circumstances: you. Without even realizing it, you might be sabotaging a co-worker. How do you figure out if your own words and actions are partly to blame? Start by identifying your team member's problem behavior. Choose from the following main trouble spots, then see whether you can do anything to help turn an abysmal employee into an awesome one.

The problem: Unmotivated

Lucy Lazy thinks of her job simply as a job. Sure, she doesn't wish any harm on the patients, but she's not truly committed to caring for them or their owners. Her bare-minimum effort brings other team members down, and some even resent the idea that she does less work for the same money.

You're part of the trouble: Generous wages, benefits, and rewards can get team members going. But focusing solely on the money—either offering incentives or cutting hours and pay—will only net a short-term improvement. If you have a say in salary and you're hoping a monetary hint will make disengaged employees get the point and do better, you're hoping for a miracle. Think that because you don't have a say in the finances you can't help? You're thinking incorrectly.

Be part of the solution: Rather than stressing wages, a truly inspirational environment encourages team members to grow and be decision-makers. To get co-workers connected, ditch the one-size-fits all approach and help people do the jobs they want to do. For example, if Lucy awakens from her slumber when there's talk of a group gathering, capitalize on her desire to socialize. Ask her to be involved in projects that require teamwork. Pair her with a mentor—better yet, be the mentor yourself—who will occasionally take her to lunch. While dining, discuss the wonderful work other team members are doing and spur her to join them.

Is your Lucy more likely to complain that the practice is unorganized? Suggest that she come up with a list of areas in which the clinic could improve. Ask her to write details about why systems are failing, as well as specific ideas for making these systems better. For example, if Lucy cringes at the mention of going through patient records, ask to help her create a form—or suggest she create one on her own—that neatly and succinctly presents the need-to-know information, such as past recommendations. When she's encouraged to complete tasks that align with her interests, she'll become more engaged in work.